Rissik Street post office gets revamp

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old post office in rissik street INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Sparks fly from the clock tower of the Rissik Street post office in November 2009. Photo: Karen Sandison

The long-awaited restoration contract for the Rissik Street post office – a historic landmark in the Joburg CBD – is now under consideration, and work is likely to start within a few months.

The building, constructed in 1897, has been vandalised, occupied by squatters and been on fire twice. The famous clock tower has disappeared.

After the last fire in 2010, R16 million of temporary work was done to repair the roof and halt the decline and structural decay. And additional security was placed in the building.

The Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) has confirmed that, following a tender process, one contract is under consideration but still subject to further approvals by the City of Joburg.

Brian Mahlangu, the JPC spokesman, said: “We cannot release details until all the approvals are in place, but a proposal has been accepted and work is expected to start within the next few months.”

The building has a long history of broken promises, with many failed attempts by both the council and the private sector to restore it. The building has been standing empty since 1996.

In 2002, the clock hands and bells were stolen from the tower. The brass fittings, switches and wooden balustrades were already stripped.

The building was designed by Dutch architect Sytze Wierda, who also designed the Palace of Justice in Pretoria. The post office was declared a national monument in 1978.

Architecturally, it has a mix of styles, including Renaissance, French, Dutch and other European influences.

Mahlangu said the restoration would be in line with heritage approvals, but the building would be developed as offices.

Historian Flo Bird, of the Parktown and Westcliff Heritage Trust, said she was delighted that progress was finally being made.

“We are hoping that the mayor and city manager will move in, and that the large downstairs hall will be open to the public so they can enjoy this historic building almost destroyed by fires,” she said.

Bird visited the premises last month and noted that the roof was in a good state and keeping the interior dry.

“There are parts where the floors have gaping holes – and the guard who was with us fell, but saved himself from dropping the full height.

“What was very exciting to see was the banking hall, which still has a lot of woodwork in place, as well as the old counter and the door and fanlight frames. The lovely encaustic tile floor is largely intact.

“We have no details as to who will use it and how much adaptation will be needed, or the name of the specialist heritage architect who will supervise the work, but the process has been started and, hopefully, we will be put in the picture soon. It sounds a very small step perhaps, but it is an essential one.”

The Rissik Street post office has a long history.

The responsibility for its maintenance belonged to the SA Post Office, in terms of the long-term lease agreement entered into between the post office and the council, at a rental of R49 a year.

However, despite numerous requests over the years, as well as instructions and threats of court action, it never fulfilled its obligations with regard to maintenance.

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